Where does your place of worship stand on the issue of corporal punishment of children? If you attend a conservative church, synagogue, or mosque, especially if it’s in ons of the southern “bible belt” states, chances are it supports hitting children as a form of discipline.
When the school district in Three Rivers, Texas, recently reinstated corporal punishment, one religious organization objected: the Satanic Temple. It put up billboards that said, “Never be hit in school again” and “Our religion doesn’t believe in hitting children.”
As the organization states on its website: “We believe in the inviolability of the human body and the right to personal sovereignty. Being hit, held against your will in isolation, or physically restrained clearly violate these fundamental tenets.”
To support students in schools that allow physical punishment, the Satanic Temple offers a pre-written letter that students sign and then give to their schools, informing them that “their deeply held beliefs do not allow for them to be hit in school, physically restrained, placed in solitary confinement, or deprived access to a bathroom.”
While not a conventional religion, the Satanic Temple’s billboard campaign is an example of how faith communities have sometimes dared to get involved in one of the most controversial childrearing issues.
Corporal Punishment in America
To many, the practice of inflicting pain on children to teach them good behavior seems barbaric, yet corporal punishment is legal in every state. According to a 2016 Gallup poll, 64 percent of Americans approve of spanking children. and nineteen states allow corporal punishment to be used in schools.
Support of corporal punishment is on the decline, yet the US still stands alone when compared to other developed nations. According to the Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children, 53 countries prohibit the practice, including in the home.
There is overwhelming evidence that physically punishing children is harmful and counter-productive. It can to lead to physical injury, increased aggression, antisocial behavior, and mental health problems. Students suffer too, as corporal punishment leads to higher drop-out rates, as well as increased rates of depression, substance abuse, and violent episodes later in life.
The Child-Friendly Faith Project has not found one study that shows physical punishment enhances child development, wellbeing, or self-esteem, which is why our Charter for Child-Friendly Faith upholds a child’s right to “not be subjected to teachings and rituals that cause pain.” There is a growing movement among child advocates and researchers to designate spanking as an “adverse childhood experience,” or ACE.
Faith communities take a stand
The good news is, many religious organizations, particularly those that are moderate or liberal, oppose the practice. In 2004, the United Methodist Church passed resolutions encouraging members to find alternative disciplinary techniques to corporal punishment and opposing the use of corporal punishment in schools and child-care facilities. The Presbyterian Church USA followed in 2012 with a similar declaration, and the United Church of Christ is considering to do the same. The Baha’i faith has long opposed corporal punishment and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints discourages its use.
Still, many Americans, particularly those in rural areas, strongly believe in using physical punishment in homes and schools. Some advocate for “a spat on the seat,” as one Baptist pastor put it, or hitting a child with an implement, such as a paddle or belt. Others make children eat hot sauce.
In 2012, a vice-principal in Springtown, Texas, paddled a 15-year-old girl so severely he left welts on her body. (The Satanic Temple put up a billboard in Springtown earlier this year in reaction to that case.)
One North Carolina school offers students who misbehave the option of being paddled or put on in-school suspension, which means they stay at school but are not allowed to go to class. When sophomore Allison Collins’ cell phone went off in class—she says it was the first time she’d ever been in trouble—she chose to be hit rather than miss out on class time.
As Collins told NPR, the principal called her father to get his permission to strike her. “And my dad was like, ‘Just paddle her.’ Because down here in the mountains, we do it the old-school way.”
If you know of a religious organization that promotes the use of physical punishment, and you’d like support in approaching the leadership to discuss this issue, please get in touch by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.